The Poison That Cures

Salam Syagha

© Copyright 2023 by Salam Syagha

Image by Storme22k from Pixabay
Image by Storme22k from Pixabay .

It was a hot summer day. The sun was throwing its golden locks softly hitting the fig, and grapes trees to rise and ripen in the vast brown fields that are spread on our village’s skirts. I was anxious to meet my grandfather who had invited me the previous night to accompany him in an adventure.

My grandma told him to leave me alone and not to engage me in his dangerous games as she called them. I was really curious to know what his plans were. He winked at me and said, “Be here at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow.” “If I got what I want, you will have your share of the gains.” 

With those words, my enthusiasm hit the ceiling. At five minutes to eight, I rang the doorbell. The smell of fried egg reached my nostrils. I thought to myself, “The old man is a new Alzheimer patient. It seems he forgot our yesterday’s deal and is having his breakfast.” 

“So, here you came”. His cheerful voice greeted me. “I knew you’ll show up on time.”

Yes, I replied. Who dares to miss an adventure with you “old man?”

“Promise me you won’t change your mind when you find out what we are going to do,” he asserted. My heart missed a beat; however, my excitement overcame my fear, 

“Go ahead. Why are you so secretive? Spill the beans.” I said, “I won’t change my mind.”

Well, we are going to hunt snakes.”

What? Snakes?” My saliva stuck in my throat, “Are you serious? Why do you want to hunt snakes?”

No, we won’t kill them. We just need their poison.” “Let’s go, and I will explain the plan on our way to the fields.” On our way, he illustrated what he would do. I listened and agreed to watch from a distance.

We parked our truck under the green walnut tree. He jumped from his place, went back to the back part of his truck, got around 10 cm thick old long wooden stick. Then, he brought a fluffy yellow sponge and covered one of the stick tips with it. He used yellow rubber bands to fix it there, so that it wouldn’t slip. When he was done, he loaded his rifle, carried it on his shoulder and picked up the fried eggs that he put in an old plate and said, “Ready?” I nodded.

The vast field was planted with many olive, fig, and walnut trees. Its floor was ploughed, so it was not even in which a person couldn’t run steadily if he had to escape. Also, the piece of land was divided into levels, and at the end of each level there were hand-built rocky fences. Grandpa held his rifle, his multi-purpose stick and strode to his destination noiselessly. I followed his trail until he reached the borders of the land beside the fence where he once saw a big black snake. Slowly, he landed the eggs on the floor, moved backwards and waited. Watching him from afar, his back was little bit bent though he kept his muscles, for he is a proud farmer who takes care of his land by himself. 

I was sweating whether it was of fear or of the weather I couldn’t tell. Around thirty minutes passed when we saw a black shining head coming out from between the rocks. I could hear it hissing and sliding cautiously towards its morning feast. My grandfather who was waiting held his stick and attacked it. It directly retrieved to its pit. He pushed the stick further to where it came from. A second later, it attacked the thick stick biting the sponge. With every bite, it poured its venom to the sponge. 

Literally, I was scared to death. I thought of the worse. If it sneaked and bit my grandpa, I wouldn’t be able to do anything. My feet were cemented to the soil where I was stuck like a sculptured statue. 

My grandfather kept on moving the stick towards it, and it didn’t surrender; it kept on making that terrifying hissing sound and fiercely bit the stick. When the stick was closer, it tried to coil its body around it to conquer the fight. Grandpa would push the stick back for a second or so, then he would seek to reach it from the circular dim hole in between the rocks. This scene continued for around fifteen minutes. The loud hissing and forceful strikes of the stick against the rocks with my grandfather’s triumphant screams combined with an odd scent, a mixture of cucumber and something else I couldn’t figure made me feel I was abandoned in a desert around a hundred light-years away from modern civilization.

The battle lasted until both were exhausted. My grandfather decided then that was enough. His treasured venom was absorbed by the sponge, and it was time to depart. He turned around, and in a blink of an eye, the snake was rushing towards him. It opened its mouth releasing its forked tongue, curved its back and rolled forward rapidly to revenge. I yelled. Fortunately, he was quicker than it was. He aimed at its head. One shot and it was over. We went back to the truck where he held a nylon bag to place the venomous stick in it in order to hand it to the herbalist and get his promised two thousand bucks reward.

I took my place beside him; my clothes were wet. I struggled to utter a word. My dry throat muted my voice. The shock of the scene left me drained of energy and quivering. I gazed at him in disbelief. He gave me water. I quenched both my thirst and fury. 

“Was it worth it?” I asked angerly. 

He laughed, “Are you scared young lady?” he interrupted, “yes, it is worth it. Do you know what the venom is used for?”

“No.” I muttered. He said that the herbalist uses it as one of the most important ingredients in creating alternative medicine to treat patients from diseases like cancer. 

I was astounded and remained silent dreading the nightmares that will agitate my sleep for a while.

Salam Syagha is a University instructor and a ph.d candidate Who teaches English as a first foreign language. She is interested in writing short stories that may give people a glimpse of hope.  She is also interested in research that will add insights to the learning process.

I live in Fardis/Hasbaya, a village in southern Lebanon that is well known for its hospitality and lovely olive trees.  The oil from those trees is what many farmers depend on for a living.

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